I am sitting in the waiting room at my insurer’s Mental Healthcare Facility. We all sit together, on this stained and awful circular arrangement of olive green couches. Father Knows Best blares from the tv directly above and behind my head. Why did I choose this seat? What channel could this be? We all avoid eye contact, mostly via cell phone screen, except for the man in the wheelchair. He is staring directly at me, I can feel it even when I’m not looking. I can’t tell if he’s staring on purpose or because he lacks the motor control to look elsewhere. I try to avoid this place. I only come maybe 4 times per year, well under the allotted number of annual visits.
My parents have always been suspicious of educated strangers trained to help. “It goes on your record,” my stepmom used to say. She believed neighbors and employers would somehow find out, that your future could be ruined. I was raised not to tell anyone, not even close friends, my problems, my secrets, to push it down, to hold it in, to suck it up.
I heeded that advice for some time. I kept it all inside. I was very, very quiet. Eventually, something broke, and it came pouring out.
My dad asks me how my week went. I’m having one of those weeks I sometimes have when I feel low, like I am moving underwater. It only happens occasionally. When it does, it is intense, and recent external events have made things more hectic than usual. I tell him it has been a long week, and, to my surprise, he presses for more details. I begin to give them. He quickly stops me. He tells me about his girlfriend’s sister-in-law’s ALS. She can’t move her arms, he says. She can’t speak. We are still alive, he says. We can speak. I think he is trying to make me feel better. It isn’t working.
I hate myself a little when I go to therapy. It such a privileged person thing to do, to whine to someone about my problems when I have my health, enough food, good kids, a stable relationship, a warm home. I have pet turtles that swim in a 40 gallon tank, and some people don’t have water. I am not that man in the wheelchair who probably can’t move his head. I feel obnoxious for feeling like I have problems. I hate everyone in here, I hate my brain. I am sorry for the nice redhead who has to listen to me.
I come here anyway. I force myself through an awkward session of talking and, sometimes, crying. I blow my nose and wipe at my eyes with the cheap, scratchy tissue from the little blue cardboard box. I am exhausted when we are finished.
I would like to be able to sort out my head alone, to not need any help, with anything. I would like to be as strong and repressed as my parents tried to teach me to be. But I’m not. Sometimes I need help. At least four times a year.